Wisconsin unions vow to fight Walker’s budget planA state budget fix that would strip the ability to collectively bargain from state and local employees has prompted a flood of response.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A state budget fix that would strip the ability to collectively bargain from state and local employees has prompted a flood of response.
Sen. Bob Jauch said his office has been deluged with e-mails since Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill was unveiled Friday, and phones are ringing off the hook.
“I cannot think of an issue that has touched the nerve of citizens in this state more than this one,” said Jauch, D-Poplar, after a community discussion Monday at the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus. “The torch has been lit.”
Walker, however, refused to back down Monday, saying he needed all the concessions he was seeking. Walker is pushing to pass the plan this week, though it could be difficult for some of his fellow Republicans to accept.
Union leaders said Walker was declaring war on them and they vowed to bring thousands of people to the Capitol to pressure them to at least compromise on the sweeping bill made public just four days before it was subject to a public hearing.
Union leaders said they would have been willing to negotiate higher health insurance and pension contributions, but Walker said the state’s fiscal crisis is so severe he can’t wait months to bargain with the unions.
Wisconsin faces a $137 million shortfall for the budget year that ends June 30 and a $3.6 billion deficit by mid-2013.
Walker’s plan calls for nearly all state, local and school employees to pay half the costs of their pensions and at least 12.6 percent of their health-care premiums. That would save $30 million by June 30 and $300 million over the next two years, Walker said.
To help offset the average 8 percent increase in costs for state employees under his plan, Walker has promised no furloughs or layoffs.
Walker also wants to end collective bargaining rights for all public employees except local police and fire departments and the state patrol. Wages could be bargained for only if they don’t exceed the consumer price index.
“I’m hearing from people — neighbors, friends — who have not been politically engaged in the past but feel threatened, feel as if their neighbors are threatened, by this proposal,” Jauch said.
“This is going to hurt the very people who teach our children, the people who keep the streets safe, the people who take care of the sick and elderly in our society,” said Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range.
More than 300 people attended the Monday meeting in Superior, including faculty, staff, students and members of the community.
“It’s about collective bargaining, about having a voice,” said UWS professor Khalil Dokhanchi. Walker’s proposal comes less than a year after state university faculty and staff were granted the right to form unions.
Jess McCullough works in student support services at UWS, providing programs for at-risk students. He said the union has accepted unpaid furlough days and other concessions to help save jobs. But Walker’s proposal would break his family budget.
“If this goes through — I’m expecting my first child in May — I won’t be able to pay my bills,” McCullough said.
The bill gets its first public hearing in the Legislature’s budget-writing committee today. That panel, composed of 12 Republicans and four Democrats, planned to vote on it immediately after the hearing. That would send the bill on to the Senate, which could take it up as soon as Thursday, followed by the Assembly later that day or possibly Friday.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond contributed to this report.